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Q: Do you need to sleep with a woman to be a lesbian?
I’m not sure where to start and you probably get letters like this all the time, but I genuinely can’t tell if I’m attracted to women or not. I suppose it’s not that important one way or the other, but it’s frustrating feeling like I don’t understand myself. I mean, there are certainly some signs I might be attracted to women.
I dated a guy for a few years in high school, but we never even came close to having sex. But I also was suffering from severe depression at the time and had zero sex drive (the idea of sex didn’t interest me until I was in my 20s and fixed my problem with depression). He was the only person I’ve ever dated, but I wasn’t physically attracted to him.
I’ve had a lot of female friends I really liked. But, how do you distinguish between enjoying someone’s company and being attracted to them in a more romantic sense? I know, it’s like I’m asking how to be human here. I just can’t say that I’ve ever had a feeling for a man that I haven’t for a woman or the other way around.
While I’d enjoy companionship, I’m nervous about starting to date anyone. I dunno if I’m attracted to anyone and I wouldn’t want to lead anyone on. Possibly I’m using this as a bit of an excuse to not put myself out there since I haven’t dated anyone in years now and basically haven’t dated anyone, but I also genuinely don’t want to mislead anyone. How many people are going to be interested in dating me though if I say, “By the way, I might be lesbian”?
Well, reader, first let me tell you you’re exactly right – it’s not really that important. At least, it shouldn’t be important to anyone but you (and whoever you are sleeping with – which, from what I can tell, is no one at the moment). That being said, it can be frustrating to not know how to label yourself, should you decide you want a label. (Some people choose to not label themselves, which is a completely appropriate option – after all, it’s really no one’s business unless you want it to be their business, anyway.)
Next, to answer your initial question: No, you don’t have to sleep with a woman to know you’re a lesbian (or to be a lesbian). Just as virgins can know they are heterosexual, they can also know that they’re homosexual or bisexual, or whatever label truly fits. Some people need to confirm it to themselves (I did) but that doesn’t mean you owe an explanation or “references” to anyone else.
Depression can drastically affect your sex drive, so it’s understandable that you wouldn’t have wanted sex if you were battling some serious mental health concerns. It’s possible that you weren’t attracted to men, it’s possible you were suffering from the physical aspect of depression symptoms, and it’s also possible that the guy you were with wasn’t enough to pique your sexual interest. It’s even possible that it was a combination of all of these factors rolled into one.
Next, I would like to let you know that the spectrum of sexuality reaches much further than most people realize. Many people consider two end points (gay and straight) and sometimes bisexuals falling evenly in the middle. The truth is, it’s a lot more complicated than that. It’s not even a circle, really – it’s more of a Venn diagram. Remember those from middle school?
Here are some of the commonly used labels (with very generalized descriptions – please, if there is a reader who falls within one of these labels and would like to define it more clearly, don’t hesitate to share in the comments section!). There is an infinite number of possibilities here, really… So just because it didn’t make my list doesn’t mean it’s not a legitimate label of your sexual expression.
Refers to a complete lack of sexual attraction, to any gender. Some asexuals may perform sexual favors for their partner, but that is an individual decision – and it definitely does not apply to everyone.
Refers to someone who is sexually attracted to both binary genders. While it’s often assumed that these are equal, that is not always the case – many bisexuals prefer one gender over the other.
Often assumed to be similar to bisexuality, pansexuals feel that gender is unrelated to sexual attraction.
Refers to exclusive attraction to the opposite gender as yourself.
Refers to exclusive attraction to the same gender as yourself.
Refers to someone who is not romantically attracted to anyone – regardless of gender. Sometimes, they can be sexually attracted to someone, but they do not feel “love”.
Refers to someone who is romantically attracted to both binary genders. Just as with bisexuality, it’s not always an even 50% for each gender.
Refers to someone who is romantically attracted to someone irrespective of their gender.
Refers to someone who is exclusively romantically attracted to someone of the opposite gender.
Refers to someone who is exclusively romantically attracted to someone of the same gender.
Refers to someone who doesn’t feel the need to define their sexuality or their emotional attractions. For all intents and purposes, it is the same as pansexual and panromantic, but without the acknowledgement of a specific label. In a perfect world, “no label” would be the default unless otherwise specified.
Questioning/Curious (which is how I would classify you right now)
Refers to those who are uncertain of their sexuality. It usually implies that you are at the point where you are exploring your options (sometimes involving sex, and other times just dating) there should never be any push from others to do something you’re not comfortable with. I’m not saying it won’t happen, but you are under no obligation to give into their “demands”!
With these different criteria for romantic and sexual attractions, a “complete” sexual label would involve taking a label from each category and combining them into your specific label. For example, someone who is exclusively sexually attracted to their gender but romantically attracted to all genders could be considered “homosexual panromantic”. The thing to remember is that there are no “right” or “wrong” answers – your label is a personal decision and it is completely acceptable to refuse any label (just look at how many celebrities have “not come out” lately!).
In regards to your next question – “how do you distinguish between enjoying someone’s company and being attracted to them in a more romantic sense?” – this answer is different for everyone, too. It’s hard to tell exactly what pulls you into a person, especially since the best relationships usually start as something closer to friendship. Trust me, you’ll definitely recognize the shift in feelings if it happens, and your instincts may tell you what to do at this point. (If they don’t, feel free to come back and ask us another question!)
For your final question, I think that there are many people who don’t mind the lack of a label. As long as you’re honest with your potential partners, in most cases there won’t be much of a problem. (Although, admittedly, when I was still questioning myself, there were some guys I dated who knew that I was pretty sure I wasn’t interested in guys… They said they were OK with it, but once I was certain that I definitely was not interested in them, they were significantly less OK with it.)
If you are honest with the people you’re pursuing about where you stand, you will feel confident in your decision to not waste your time with someone who’s not OK with where you are in your self-discovery. Besides, why would you want to be with someone who didn’t want you as you are?
Take care of yourself, Reader, and please don’t hesitate to write back if you need more help!